Bookshop Owner Outside Empty Store

We are often asked if books we publish will be on sale in “real” bookshops. The answer is a bit complicated, so let us explain.

All our books are listed with all the wholesalers and distributors that bricks-and-mortar bookshops use, as well as being published in the main catalogue where bookstores choose new releases for stock. These include Ingram, Nielsen, Bertrams, Gardners, Barnes & Noble among others. So yes, our books are available to all the major, and most minor, bookstores. If you go into your local Waterstones you probably won’t see our books on the shelves, but if you, or any other customer, asks them to get a title in, they will be able to look up and order any of them for you.

The reasons we don’t actively distribute to physical bookstores:

  • You, the author, would need to pay upfront for a sizeable (at least 500 copies) print run of your book to allow the wholesalers to keep it “in stock”.
  • Depending on the wholesaler you will also have to pay a storage fee each year and keep a minimum stock with them.
  • You would then need to persuade a large number of bookstores to order your book in. You could pay a distributor to do this for you (for a fee/percentage of sales); you could try to contact chain stores like Waterstones direct, but purchasing decisions for all but the biggest funded books are made on a store by store basis, so you would need to contact each outlet individually; and/or you could approach independent bookstores directly. This is a big sales outlay just to get a bookstore to stock (not buy) your book.
  • If a bookstore did stock your book, you would not be not paid until after they had sold them (usually 90+ days terms).
  • But getting a retailer to “stock” lots of books isn’t the same as selling lots of books. If they failed to sell the books (which happens more and more) the publisher/author is left out of pocket and with no income to pay off the cost of printing.
  • This is because almost all bookshops take books on a “sale or return/destroy” basis. This means if they failed to sell your book they would be able to return them to you, or destroy them, at your expense. In essence, you take all the risk, for a small stake in the reward. The way to avoid this risk is to ask for on “firm sale” terms, but most bookstores won’t take books on this basis (which we insist on).
  • You would also have to pay (a lot) to get any decent in-store positioning for your book.
  • When you consider more and more bookstores now resemble libraries (people go in to browse, and then order their books online), paying for positioning is a waste of money.
  • Bricks and mortar bookstores (with the exception of second-hand and niche bookshops) are on the same path as record stores and video shops…
  • Your likelihood of making money or getting visibility from book sales in a physical bookstore gets slimmer and slimmer all the time. And, the work involved in getting your book stocked, let alone sold, just isn’t worth your time when you do a simple risk/reward equation.

Why we prefer online bookstores:

Amazon and Kindle are by far the best source of sales for your book (this is only not the case in territories like Australia, where Amazon only sell Kindle ebooks). Other online bookstores achieve some sales without added expense to you or us. Other e-book formats may also make a few sales, but often not enough to justify reformatting and uploading your book to their platforms and losing the benefits of being enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Select programme.

  • Amazon and Kindle are the killer apps for book sales.
  • Amazon and most (though not all) online bookstores use the print-on-demand model. This means neither we nor you, the author, pay for printing books upfront – or take the risk of the retailer being unable to sell them.
  • Amazon prints your books as they are ordered by their customer, packages and delivers them. Neither the author nor publisher is involved in fulfilment, delivery or returns; Amazon does it all.
  • They take between 35% and 55% (depending on variables like which printer you use and the book’s rrp) of cover price; they also deduct the cost of printing the book; and pay the publisher or author the net profit monthly. (Self-published authors have reported problems with getting paid; as a publisher, we have rarely had a problem and have a good client relationship with Amazon).
  •  Amazon allows us to ethically “hack” the system to increase the numbers of people buying the book, reach the top of bestseller lists, improve visibility, make the book more desirable.
  • Amazon also has a search engine that means your book will come up for people specifically looking for YOUR KEYWORDS as opposed to hoping they’ll see the spine of your book on a shelf shared with anything to do with YOUR CATEGORY.
  • If your book is niche and solves a genuine problem people are less likely to buy it on a whim. They’ll be searching for a solution and find it via Google or Amazon, so that’s where you need your book to be.

In summary, “real” bookstores involve authors and publishers in financial risk, payment for visibility, and lots of work for at best a low return and at worst a loss. Online bookstores, in particular Amazon, offer you and your book the best, free visibility, no risk and no work other than promoting your book to drive sales.

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